Label: Domino Release date: 18/01/2010 Website: http://www.finalfantasyeternal.com/ Owen Pallett has spent the last few years providing orchestral arrangements for everyone from Grizzly Bear to Mika, via The Last Shadow Puppets and Pet Shop Boys. Now Toronto’s Pallett returns with his Final Fantasy moniker’s latest album Heartland. The follow-up to 2006’s He Poos Clouds, this album could be Pallett’s most personal yet. Showcasing his prowess on the violin and operatic vocal styles, the record opens with more a whimper than a bang as the brilliantly-named ‘Midnight Directives’ gently sets the tone of the album. It does not take long for proceedings to liven up with ‘Keep The Dog Quiet’ sounding like the soundtrack to every great film chase scene ever recorded. A 50-piece string orchestra is at the forefront of all the grandest moments on Heartland. FF’s sound before was more refined relying mainly on Pallett’s vocals and violin, but with imaginative loops/samples and the occasional bit of drumming thrown in for good measure. That with all this extra instrumentation none of the tracks sound too overblown has to be applauded. And the fact he is also a fantastic and intelligent storyteller, with interesting narratives, just adds to the vividness of the FF world. ‘Lewis Takes Action’ has a ‘Be My Baby’ style drumbeat with Disney-style atmospherics gone all sorts of wrong. Orchestral arrangements rarely sound this bonkers with equally barking lyrics – “he broke his jaw, he’ll never speak again”. ‘Lewis’ makes another appearance a couple of tracks later when he ‘Takes Off His Shirt’ – one of the standouts on the album. Almost abstract jazz at times mixed with a classical resonance, but an indie attitude, it is clear Pallett’s collaborations within the Canadian scene and beyond have paid dividends. ‘The Great Elsewhere’ sounds like a remix but also resembles Patrick Wolf’s more wigged-out moments with a minute-long piano outro surprisingly, and dramatically, ending the previously electro-heavy song. Electronica and classical instruments are used to create a unique and remarkable atmosphere. ‘Flare Gun’ has an addictive intro, at times sinister and unsettling, but also with a humourous undertone. Although Pallett claims the album is “About romance. The thing that comes before death.”, you get the feeling he sings about all aspects of love, including the turbulent times. Having won the Polaris award in 2006, the Canadian equivalent of the Mercury Prize, it would not be surprising if FF won more honours this time around. In the closing bars of ‘Oh Heartland, Up Yours!’, Pallett repeats the line “I will not sing your praises” over and over again. But I’m willingly more than happy to sing his. A triumphant return and great start to music in 2010. Rating 8/10